Interview with Say Anything frontman Max Bemis

- Feb 11, 2007 at 02:48PM
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A very interesting new band that is receiving a lot of attention as of late is the group Say Anything. The band is led by drummer Coby Linder and lead singer Max Bemis, a very interesting fellow who has had to endure many ups and downs in his life. Bemis actually was placed in a mental asylum for two weeks during the recording of the band’s album ...Is A Real Boy. Last summer Say Anything recently wrapped up a string of dates with Dashboard Confessional and the band then embarked on a lengthy fall tour of the United States. In an exclusive and very candid interview with PGA, Bemis opens up about his band, the new record, and his life.

Say Anything came together in an LA high school when Coby and yourself started jamming together. Can you offer any other details on the band’s formation exactly?
Max: We basically started a cover band of like Southern California punk bands and then started writing our own shit; we brought it to the band and then I played by myself for a while, I took a break and then played solo acoustic for a while. But then I thought I wanted a band behind the music so it became a full band again.

This was all during high school?
Max: Yes.

You guys had a lot of major label interest when first starting out yet you declined to sign with any of them. Can you elaborate on the reasons for this decision?
Max: I mean at first I kind of wanted our band to follow in the steps of other bands that sort of built their own fan base instead of having their record pushed in the faces of kids and just like being on the radio and that’s your draw and then you fall off and no one really cares about you. There’s bands that I love that will always have a fan base because they’ve been doing it the real way for a long time. But eventually I felt that we needed extra money so we signed to a bigger label, but once we had already gotten the record out there and we had our own fans.

You ended up remaining underground and eventually signed with Doghouse Records. Why did you choose to go with this label? What was it that attracted you to them?
Max: One of my favorite bands The Getup Kids originally started on Doghouse, they seem to have a good balance between small indie and sort of the pop world like All American Rejects and such bands.

Your debut Doghouse Record seems to deal with an existential quandary pertaining to the artistic struggle. How did this idea come about?
Max: Um, well I was having a hard time figuring how to approach making the first album and I was inspired by a lot of Woody Allen, Charlie Kaufman stuff, artists who sort of poked fun at the whole artistic process and then it sort of lifted them above the normal masses that the average writer. If you acknowledge it, it sort of makes it funny instead of trying so hard to take yourself really seriously about the whole thing.

The album actually has a very interesting story behind it. The songs originally followed a long story about a neurotic collegiate punk rocker who essentially becomes a rock superstar of sorts. Can you elaborate on the story and also how did this idea come to you?
Max: I was basically inspired by a lot of artists that I saw blow up, like started small, artists that didn’t get a lot of respect and ended up blowing up and being some of the biggest bands out there today. And I know some of the people in these bands and like they make it very obvious that they are sort of awkward people and how that whole process.... It made me think of anyone who pursues their art and you know if they’re successful what happens, if they’re not successful what happens, it’s the whole drive to be more popular but at the same time hating yourself or wanting it, it’s just an interesting thing to think about.

The recording process ultimately left you feeling completely drained. As a result you apparently wandered the streets of Brooklyn for two weeks in some kind of psychotic daze until you were put in an asylum for two weeks. What the heck was that experience like for you?
Max: It was just really crazy, I mean the whole album recording process was rewarding at times but it was so draining that I really lost it and that was like a really life defining process, I had to accept death and my place in the world and it was really crazy. I’d never experienced like it, it was like an adventure of sorts, it was just so over the top.

Did that experience, the asylum, maybe find its way onto the record afterwards?
Max: Um, it’s weird, it’s sort of like, it followed the way that I sort of, the story, like it sort of happened that way in real life but I didn’t really plan it. But in the end I ended up sort of accepting things about myself and feeling free and that whole process was part of it you know, so in the end of the record, the conclusion of the record, the character feels free.

Some of the aforementioned ideas were dropped and you guys started to focus more on the album’s music rather than the story itself. A little while later your first record ...Is A Real Boy was born. How do you feel about how the record ended up after all of that?
Max: I’m pretty into it and I see it as a really good first album, I think we can do better, but I think it’s a great album to start with. I think it’s perfect in itself, but there’s so many things I would have done differently now, but it’s like, I’m glad the way it came out because it just encapsulates the band at the time and you know, my feelings at the time.

There were no doubt drastic changes to the album’s lyrical content. What then is the exact theme you were going with?
Max: What do you mean? When were there changes?

Well after the fact that you were “drained” and whatnot.
Max: Oh that didn’t really change the lyrics, a lot of them were written before that happened.

What I read and what people have understood was that because of the fact you went away for two weeks, the entire story that you put into that album was changed.
Max: We had everything written and all the songs recorded pretty much. The song “Admit It” was the only one I did vocals for after.

Ultimately after the fact that you went through that whole ordeal and still came out with the album it makes even more sense that the album is not just a story of an individual but of you personally.
Max: Yeah it’s a pretty personal album. It is weird how a lot of that stuff has sort of been happening in a metaphorical sense, like the band blowing up a little bit, kids hanging on my words and treating me as more than a person sometimes and like for the same reasons and the story, I was blatantly honest about what happened to me and kids can relate to that. It’s like, it’s funny, because I try to play against that, try to remind them that the whole point of the album is that everyone is human, no one knows all the answers.

So did this story itself, when you first thought of the concept of the album, was it like I’m going to look at myself and do a story that’s mocking me in an image of me or was it just totally random and by chance that your life ended up paralleling the story line?
Max: No it was about myself, I knew from the beginning I wanted to write about myself and make fun of myself.

So it’s kind of ironic that your fate should have to come to what it was, with the breakdown and whatnot. That’s nuts man, I think that puts a lot of incredible power into the record after the fact, I think it makes it that much more potent.
Max: Yeah. Thank you!

It’s true. A lot of bands now are putting out CDs where it’s like you know, my girlfriend left me and my dog got hit by a car. Whatever, like fifty people a day experience that if not hundreds more.
Max: I mean the thing is that most people experience the emotions that I go through on the album and they’re not far from someone’s girlfriend leaving them you know what I mean? But you know, I talk about them on a larger than life scale in a metaphorical sense, so it’s like even though they’re normal feelings of being alienated and wanting to express yourself and feeling contrived and wanting to get laid, just normal things. I try not to talk about having my heart broken as much as the average musician, it’s just so many songs have been written about that, but the album really is about having a broken heart, it’s just not so blatant. It’s more about the darker side of that as opposed to the sappy, sentimental side of the whole thing.

I only recently came into Say Anything’s tunes and I know the album dropped in 2004 so I was behind. I deal with so many bands that it’s impossible to keep them all catalogued in my head, but you know, certain ones stick out because of the story and I’m definitely digging this story. Have you guys done any music videos yet?
Max: We did one music video for “Alive With the Glory of Love.”

I see you being swallowed by a black hole that is your record, while making your record, it’s like a door that has opened up and sucked you in and you’ve become the record.
Max: Yeah exactly! There’s a lot to think about, you know the themes on the record and it’s hard to escape them. It took a lot of reflection in myself and that whole thing I went through, to even come out at the end and be ok with myself.

After the album was released, you guys eventually changed gears a bit and sought out the help of J Music. What brought about this change and how are people reacting to the fact that you’ve gone major label?
Max: No one’s really given us that hard of a time about it. I think things are pretty different nowadays in this scene you know, a lot of bands have gone to major labels and some of their best work has been done while on major labels. It’s not like back in the day when indie rock was a private, exclusive club that only disgruntled record store clerks could appreciate. The average kid can go on Limewire or Itunes or to any Sam Goody and find pretty interesting music, whether it be Built to Spill, Modest Mouse to Jimmy Eat World to Green Day, all those bands are on major labels, there’s nothing wrong with it. No one has really given us any trouble for it, whenever people have problems like ethically with the majors, there’s that times 1,000 on indie labels, trying to be popular, molding the band and we’ve experienced everything on both levels.

Without any doubt, there’s been an incredible explosion of independent promoters and labels over the last ten years. Do you think that the major labels are starting to realize that we have to back off and just let the artist do their own thing and fund it and support it like a major label does because otherwise they’re not going to get good results?
Max: Pretty much, I mean I think they’re hiring people from different walks of life and different sides of the industry so it’s not just a bunch of old dudes anymore, there’s a lot of people starting to lose their jobs for good reason. Companies have started folding, and you’re right, part of it is just letting the artists artistically have more freedom, we have a lot of artistic freedom. And the other part is just making sure people who work the label know what they’re doing.

Since the album has been released you guys have been touring like mad. The last two years it seems like you’ve been on the road the entire time. How do you feel about life on the road and how has the touring been helping Say Anything’s popularity?
Max: Life on the road is good, I mean it’s great; I wouldn’t be doing anything else at this point in my life. The shows have been amazing, they’ve been beyond anything I could ever ask for, and you know, we’ve been around a long time as a band but we haven’t really toured that long and it’s been a lot of response for not so much touring. But life on the road gets to be a little bit much, like we’ve been on the road for two or three months now in a row and it’s like, I’m totally ready to get home and take a break. It gets to be the same thing every friggin’ day.

As an artist, what are your main musical goals?
Max: Musically, just I like to play music that people can feel deeply but it’s also interesting to listen to. You know, a nice balance between cathartic and pop music because you know, it’s rare that bands actually do that. There’s a lot of bands that are either here or there, like catchy or obscure but very emotionally charged and it’s hard to find a band around that has both. Especially with our next album, I want to find a duality of that.

For your fans, for the kids listening to your music, what do the next few months have in store for your band?
Max: We’re going to be going on tour all this summer with Dashboard Confessional and then we’re probably going to do another tour in the fall and then take off and write our next record.  [ END ]
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